Fear & Shaming in Nashvegas


Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hello. I’m Beth.  And I am afraid.

I am afraid I am not really a writer because a real writer wouldn’t be afraid to write, or wouldn’t wonder whether or not she was a writer.
I am afraid that other people don’t think I am a writer, either, because anyone can blog.
I am afraid I am not a writer because writers are artists, and sharing your opinions, struggles, or personal stories is not art.
I am afraid of my own opinions about social and cultural issues: that they are too too lax or too controversial for my religious friends, too intolerant for my friends who are not religious or who are not a part of my religion, incorrect, inaccurate, biased, or in some other way wrong.
I am afraid when my opinions are popular, because that makes me a conformist, a sheep, godless, or one of those weirdo Christians (depending on the day, and the issue or topic being explored).
I am afraid when they are unpopular because they might be off-base, informed by some unknown bias, or outright wrong.
I am afraid to have conversations or to post writing about these opinions on social media because I am afraid of being judged, criticized, or proven wrong in a way that makes me feel small.
I am afraid to send my posts to Huffington Post anymore, because one piece that took me months to write drew pages of criticism and trolling.
I am afraid to post to my own blog anymore, because who calls themselves a blogger that never blogs, or: who the heck wants to read a blog about someone who just talks about how afraid she is of literally everything?
I am not a good enough writer because I am not a strong-stable-or-together enough woman, an independent-enough advocate, or a smart-enough blogger.

***
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.- Nelson Mandela 

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”- 1 John 4:12

I realized recently- after a series of debilitating panic attacks and depressive episodes- that so much of what I did (or don’t do) was driven by fear and its close cousin, shame. This realization wasn’t due to some philosophical epiphany or accrual of great wisdom, but because whenever John or another loved one asked me what was wrong, my answer would invariably start with either “I’m scared [or worried] that. . .” or with a litany of things I disliked or even hated about myself.

Then I started connecting the dots. I hadn’t produced anything creative in months upon months, in spite of yearning to write to you all to share my stories about my totally rad new marriage, my struggles with the unpredictability of nonprofit sector employment, or my resolution to read more books (which I am actually keeping, because I barely read any books last year: score!).  I had stopped stirring the pot in conversations and on social media, and was posting way less satire or evocative writing from others I admire. People were asking me questions like “How are you doing. . . really?” and making their best concerned faces.

“Fine,” I would say. But I was really just a time bomb composed almost entirely of frustration, tears and calling myself names that I would never call someone else.

In my rush to keep my negative emotions and struggles with shame, fear, and self-loathing a secret (so I wouldn’t burden anyone, or be perceived as a weak, weepy, weirdo, etc.), I kept the joys and triumphs a secret, too. I numbed and closed off all my emotions (because you can’t pick and choose what you numb), and kept connection and intimacy at bay across the board.

I finally got to the point where I was afraid of how ashamed I was, and ashamed of how afraid I was. “That’s enough. This has got to stop.” I actually said those words aloud, and that was when the clouds began lifting.

In addition to leaning in to the rigor of the Lenten services and prayers, I began reading and discussing (amongst a few loved ones) Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown.

[Note: although my theology shares a lot of common ground with the principles in the book, it is research-based and practical in nature: I would highly recommend it for your personal enrichment, Lenten or otherwise.]

I admit, I was embarrassed to buy a book from the self-improvement section, but to say my self didn’t need any improvement would mean I should also be buying books about lying.

Anyway, Dr. Brown gets into the nitty-gritty of shame and vulnerability and how they cripple creativity, relationships, and self-worth. She unpacks over a decade of research, and suddenly I found myself saying “I am scared of everything, and that is a problematic situation in several ways. It’s science!” That was when I really started to grasp that fear and shame were not only holding me back from being creative, but were suffocating and hiding entire parts of myself and my struggle through the joys and the difficulties of life. I was fed up with who I had become, and the fact that I neither knew nor recognized her.

So I decided to take baby steps by posting a detailed account of this battle for you and God and everyone else to read about and weigh in on via the Internet.

This doesn’t mean I can say I will blog every week or every month, or that those fears I listed up at the top have stopped, or will stop anytime soon. I haven’t figured it out, I haven’t vanquished any foes. I have just realized that all of these things, even if they are huge and scary, can be pushed through, can be voiced, and their power over me can be diminished.

I don’t want to deprive anyone of my creativity or my individuality, or of my regular ole weird self, because I would rather look back and say, hey, my writing was worth it to me. Or, hey, at least I pushed through it. Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not scared of the monsters under the bed, it means you call them out and fight back. This is a vulnerable process and we have to do it in some way every day. But I’m starting to see just how “worth it” the fight is.

What we give to the world out of our uniqueness is our art, whether it is a painting, a blog, an academic paper, a good meal, or an honest connection to another person. Whatever you do to be your true self is worth it, even though doing it is scary. You are not alone. Success is not having no battles to fight, it’s fighting and and strengthening and pushing through that makes us better in the long run.

There’s no way I could end this post saying “That’s it, I’m done with fear.” But I am done with being ruled by fear (and shame). I’m done with making excuses, with disconnection. I want to be myself, and for people I encounter through my writing or in my life to actually know who that is.

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9 thoughts on “Fear & Shaming in Nashvegas

  1. I’ve missed hearing your voice, no matter how loud or how soft. I thought perhaps you had just fallen into routines, rather than into the pain of self loathing (or what I perceive to be from what you said.) You are a glowing light for so many, myself included. You would probably be surprised how often I try to channel a “what would bhopthiel do?” Life is scary and we are at our own liberty to break free at our own ability and pace. I’ve been slowly working got years and I’m glad that you’re coming back to say “I’m me and I don’t need your approval.”

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    • That means so much, Robyn. I love you and miss your face. It is true to a degree that my life just became busy, and at first I just didn’t want to put pressure on myself to write. I just wanted to adjust to these new situations. It transitioned into the other, worse stuff when I started obsessing over all the ways I wasn’t cutting it or didn’t feel satisfied instead of just saying things like “If I wasn’t enough for John we wouldn’t be together” or “If I didn’t get this job, then this isn’t where I was meant to work.” I at some point along the way just kinda realized that feeling something strongly or being really afraid of something doesn’t mean it’s true. I am not trying to do anything much bigger at this point than lean into it, say “this isn’t going to beat me, or define me” and then seeing what’s underneath/on the other side of all that. That person, whoever is underneath/on the other side of all this funk, that’s who I am trying to free and become. Thanks for the empathy. We might have some different experiences from each other, but the things we are feeling are things that all people are struggling with. Hang in there, and I am always around if you need someone to hash it out with (not to mention you would be an amazing asset to our book discussion group- just sayin’!)

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  2. “Once you turn and face your fear, you realize there was nothing holding you back except fear itself.” And that isn’t so scary after all.

    I won’t say that I can’t relate, because we can all relate to each other on some level. But people tell me I have always walked my own path, and when I look back at my choices, it’s true. I have never given much thought to what others think of me. I write what I enjoy reading. The only time I caved into others, was when I was drawing. People told me what I should draw for them and after a few disappointments and frustrations, I stopped drawing altogether (don’t worry, I’ve picked it up again). But not even my mother can make me do what she feels is better for me. If I love what I do, I will find a way to make it work.

    The beginning of this really scared me, though, to be honest. I had to dig myself in and finish it through to the end, because when I hear the warning bells of depression, my heart jumps into action. I suffered depression four years straight. I don’t need to get into the details, because it was entirely unrelated to your story. But I do want to encourage you that it does get better. It might take awhile. It might take a few years. My therapist explained it as your emotions have been in a massive car accident. You have broken ribs, bruises, cuts, and all that takes time to heal. You’re right, you’ll still stumble back into your old routine, but now you are aware of the signs and can make steps to prevent and dig yourself out. You have people who love you. Now that you’ve allowed yourself to be held accountable, they will come alongside you.

    Thank you for sharing. Go be the best of yourself you can be.

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    • I appreciate your candor, and for pushing through to the end. I know that it was uncomfortable to write, so I am sure it is a little squirmy to read. One of the things in the book that is so powerful is that when you form a connection, and when you use that to share the stories of fear and shame and empathize with each other, it dramatically reduces the power of those thoughts over us. Practically speaking, when you can read someone’s story and say, “Oh, God. I know that’s hard. I’ve been through those feelings. Thanks for telling me.” or “Yes, I have experienced that. You can do this. Here is the truth about you (and it’s good).”– and automatically that person is no longer alone, so they might still be afraid or struggling, but the shameful feelings are greatly diffused. One of the biggest things I am learning right now is that a struggle or an uncomfortable conversation is not bad just because it doesn’t feel good. Push through. Figure out what’s really going on. Learn from it. Get to the other side of it. Hang in there– I appreciate your insights.

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  3. Awesome post, Beth! I recently saw two Ted Talks by Brene Brown; I found them very helpful. I think of Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The gospel forces us to look at our spiritual poverty–a real and present danger–in order that we can be lead to redemption. I like the quote by C. S. Lewis: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” It’s so terrifying to face our shame, our mistakes! I hope the Lord gives you courage and grace to grow, and reminds you that peace and love are fruits that WILL be produced in you.

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    • Thank you for your prayers and support, Jesee. I agree that her work is so valuable, in part because it shows you that it IS scary, but that everyone experiences it, and it is possible to greatly lessen the power that fear and shame have over us. Hang in there.

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  4. I’m so excited to read your words again. ❤ Thank you for writing, both for me and for Beth! Thank you for being brave again, both for me and for Beth! You are wonderful, and you are definitely a writer. Don't stop!

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